Postmodern Challenges for Youth Ministers

by Linda Lawson

Citing the urgency to "reach out and disciple youth in the postmodern culture," Paul Turner, one of the speakers at a Youth Ministry Summit in Birmingham held late in January, listed ten trends he said youth ministry leaders must understand.

Turner, who is manager of the Youth Section in the Discipleship and Family Division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, said first of all, youth ministers must do their work with the understanding that families are falling apart, "and not just outside the church."

Second, he noted, loneliness characterizes the lives of many youths, even though they are surrounded by people at school and at church.

"Music is their language," Turner said. "Kids today are grabbing a CD from one of their favorite artists, giving it to one of their friends and saying, ‘This is how I believe.'"

In a fourth trend, he said, "boundaries today are nonexistent."

Fifth, he said young people today "are interested in the spiritual, but that doesn't mean they are necessarily seeking something Christian."

Also, Turner said, today's youth, Christians and non-Christians, "want to make a difference" in the world. "We have to help channel this into positive directions."

In another area, he said youths shun making commitments-even signing up to attend an event-because "something better might come along. Commitment is seen as too risky."

Because sex permeates the media-movies, television, music, and the Internet-Turner said, in an eighth trend, sexual activity is both expected and confusing to today's youth.

Ninth, he said today's youth have high levels of knowledge and skill related to technology. "Let the kids design your Web pages."

Finally, he said, youths and adults in the postmodern culture often operate with a post-Christian mindset. "You make a mistake if you assume teenagers have been brought up with a knowledge of biblical principles."

Turner listed several ways to reach members of the postmodern generation, as described by Leonard Sweet in his book Post-Modern Pilgrims. Members of this generation, according to Sweet, learn through experiential activities and by personal involvement. They are image-driven and highly connected through relationships.

Baptist Press